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Opposites

Opposites

by Marco M. Pardi

Behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.” George Carlin

I am lying.” Zen Koan. (If true, it is false)

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

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Tonio, you’re like a son to me but if the order comes I’d kill you in a heartbeat.”

Thanks, Herb. The feeling’s mutual.”

Recently retired, “Herb” had been a junior OSS officer and assistant to the OSS officer both he and Tonio had known as “Jimmy” in the closing months of WWII in Europe. Herb and Jimmy had both taken an interest in Tonio, the younger son of a multi-lingual woman with American citizenship who had been trapped in Europe at the outbreak of the war and had signed on with the OSS. After Tonio’s small family had eventually gone to the States Tonio assumed he would not hear from them again. But soon after he had enlisted in the Air Force Security Forces and been stationed in North Africa Tonio heard from Herb. The contact came through Colonel Barker, Base Provost Marshal. Herb, in coordination with Jimmy, both then in what had become the CIA (known to insiders only as The Company), had a request: Come to the American Embassy in the city 20 miles from the base for a “private conversation”.

Having achieved highest rankings in Unarmed and Armed Defense and Assault, easily competent in learning languages, and already having established a track record, Tonio was not surprised. He agreed to the meeting, curious about what could have reawakened contact after so many years. So began a very long and exceptionally well hidden career as an ad hoc problem solver. Tonio had barely contained a laugh when someone in the Company asked if he was a “trouble shooter”. As a NOC (non-official cover), no COS (Chief of Station) had ever seen even a photograph of him; this was to prevent an inadvertent sign of recognition should a hostile agency present the COS with a mug shot and charges.

Over the years Tonio rarely looked back on what became his initiation into this ultra-classified and tiny group within the Company though it was necessarily brutal. Indeed, it couldn’t have been more different from his public persona as a socially conscious college professor. When he did privately reminisce on that and others of the many assignments it was only to marvel at how his life was a portrait of opposites.

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My interest in the concept of opposites began very early, with my exposure to religion classes taught in Catholic primary schools. Even though, for survival’s sake, I went through the motions, I was not long into the process when I accepted that I didn’t believe such things; I came to adopt Saint Contrarius as my patron. But I’m not a contrarian in all things; I just got an early start at looking for both sides.

For example, when some classmates asked the instructor what heaven was like and what people do there the answer was: They are gathered around God’s throne joyfully singing his praises for eternity. Whoa. Eternity? Someone once said, Eternity is a long time. Bad enough sitting through a 60 minute class. Eternity? And how long can you be “joyful” before this starts to go south? I mean really south. As in Down There. And how long can this God hold out listening to all this yowling? Even Donald Trump must tire of being surrounded by sycophants who tell him he won the election. Can we hear about hell again?

So this opened the door onto the winding pathway some of us call Life, and others call The Road to Perdition. Everything comes with another side, even gift horses though I’ve never thought they had anything hidden in their mouths. (I would caution against peering in the other end, unless you just want to get kicked across the pasture.)

Lao Tzu said, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. By the way, in archaic Mandarin Lao Tzu means simply Old Man, the idea being that age and experience bring wisdom. Something we’ve tended to forget in our Google addled age. (Say that after four Martinis.)

But while quite young I was awarded the distinction of being one “who thinks too much”. Some might see that as an affliction which could result in inaction, indecisiveness, even missed opportunities. Seeing the benefits and the drawbacks of thoughtfulness, I determined to think fully but think quickly. About that same time I realized such an approach to life required willingness to deal with the consequences of decisions including learning from them. So, among all the various philosophies I examined I found that Taoism and Buddhism had the most sensible and useful concepts about thinking.

In Taoism (pronounced Dowism) the symbol is the message. Most people are at least aware of the circular “Yin-Yang” symbol, the juxtaposition of opposites. That’s nice. But the fundamental principle of the symbol is Hsiang Sheng (Mutually Arising) which is embodied where the light and the dark elements meet. Thus, light makes no sense without the presence of dark, and the reverse. Up requires Down. We could go on. So looking back at those early years of wondering when eternal heavenly joy becomes meaningless tedium, I must wonder if someone who has never experienced the deepest pit of sadness – and cannot therefore hold the vivid memory of that pit – can experience the utmost joy.

Decades ago I saw a giggling, smiling man sitting on the floor of his institutional room, tightly strapped into the straitjacket that was commonly used at the time. I asked the attending nurse if, since he seemed happy, couldn’t he be released from the jacket. She said, “Oh, no. It’s the jacket that makes him happy.” I could only suppose he carried somewhere the, for him, horrible memories of being released from the jacket for bathing and other functions. Or maybe they sedated him before removing the jacket. I didn’t ask.

Moderation in all things. This proverb is well known, though its origins are cloudy. Hesiod (700 BCE) and Plautus (250-184BCE) are among the most commonly cited authors. But note: It says all things, not some things, not just joyful things. But who determines what’s moderate? Spare the rod and spoil the child. Heard that one before? I bet.

I know some families that do not allow their children, even teenagers, to watch or hear the evening news. Okay, but when will they be allowed to see what the world is like? And how long do we suppose they do not get versions of the news from other sources, such as other children? To this day I remember some of the crazy stuff I “learned”, as a pre-teen, about sex from the learned conversations among the other boys. Fortunately, they were not discussing more dangerous pursuits.

Speaking of which, you have probably heard – and maybe said – Let them learn from their own mistakes. Sound familiar? Hey, I’ve even said something similar in my own defense as someone tried to intervene in my plans.

That’s okay for the relatively inconsequential things in life. But we are clearly at a threshold upon which we must honestly face how we have accepted, and even rushed toward false dichotomies that, if left uncorrected, will kill us.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, arguably the last truly Republican President of the United States, coined the phrase military/industrial complex to characterize the cadre of power brokers who actually steer this country, regardless of the political theater which changes acts every four or eight years. The Labor Movement of the 1920’s and ’30’s drew much of its inspiration from the foundational principles what had been the philosophy of communism. True communism, which simply cannot exist in societies at higher than the band level, is the anathema of fascism. Unfortunately, societies can call themselves whatever they want, and so the Soviet Union, China, and others called themselves Communist. They were not and are not; they are totalitarian states. But the covert fascists in the American military/industrial complex, knowing better than to openly label themselves, frantically pointed to the “Communist” states as dreaded enemies of freedom and successfully generated what became known as “The Red Scare”. This effectively crippled American Labor for years, and continues to reverberate through even today’s resistance to mask mandates and Covid vaccines. In short, the false lure of “freedom” touted loudly by the Republican Party in association with every socio-political goal or issue to be voted is a false flag. It is waving the flag of one form of totalitarianism as a salvation from another form of totalitarianism. At heart, they are the same thing.

But the effort to get everyone to get vaccinated and to wear a mask is a purely apolitical, health based issue. Claiming the “freedom” to not do so in fact claiming the freedom to put the lives of others at risk. These same people are crusading against science and critical thinking, claiming these are socialist or communist (most of these people seem unable to tell the difference) plots to limit our freedom to destroy the planet.

Robert Penn Warren said, (I paraphrase) “The truth takes a long time to be true.” We are out of time. We can no longer entertain false dichotomies and allow ourselves to be led down the road to perdition. We must see truth and we must act on it.

In one of his lucid moments Ronald Reagan addressed global divisions by posing a threat from an external enemy, an alien civilization invading Earth. He suggested that such a threat would erase our divisions and unite us as never before.

But that scenario, being a seeming opposite to all of us, does not require honest self examination. We are indeed under global attack, not only from a virus, but from the consequences of our own actions: Climate Change. Many years ago Pogo said it for us: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Until we have the moral courage to look within and understand that what we are doing is the opposite of what is good for us, our children, and the planet we will continue down the Road to Perdition. But unlike Lao Tzu’s suggestion, it is doubtful if we will make it a thousand miles.

Deferred Gratification

Deferred Gratification

by Marco M. Pardi

The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

As Tonio cleared through Immigration & Customs in the Tangier-Boukhalef airport, soon to be known as the Tangier Ibn Battouta airport, 15 km southwest of the city center he made two quick stops. First he entered a gift shop and purchased an English – Berber dictionary and phrase book, then he went to the men’s room. The book was to bolster his cover. He knew the main dialect of Berber was Danja, with three sub-dialects Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Central Atlas Tamazight and he was curious to see how any of them differed from the Hamitic Arabic he had learned hundreds of miles to the east. But he also strictly adhered to the operational principle of never letting on that one understood a local language. Volumes of precious information floated in the air as people assumed he could not understand. In the men’s room he quickly ascertained it was empty and then took a prepared “Robert Redford” mustache from his book bag and applied it. Then, a Stanford University baseball cap and a large pair of Serengeti aviator’s sunglasses.

Stepping outside he heard the recorded ṣalat aẓ-ẓuhr, thecall tonoonday prayer issuing from the nearby mosque, just as he spotted the cab with mismatched hubcaps he knew would be waiting. Immediately on entering the cab the driver sped off toward Tangier souk dakhel, near the Ancien Medina. Still silent, the driver cruised down Avenue Sidi Bou Arraqia and turned right onto Rue de la Liberte where he came to a stop outside a sporting goods store. Tonio’s ultimate destination, the small villages in the Idaren Draren (“Mountains of the Mountains”) region of the Atlas mountains would require some equipment.

As Tonio entered the empty store a stunning young woman rose behind the counter, deep honey hair, slightly tanned complexion and brilliant hazel eyes. She immediately stepped back into a corridor and disappeared. He thought of his life companion, Maartje, waiting for him at home and heard her in his mind chuckling, “Enjoy the garden….”. He never doubted they had some sort of psychic connection. As he waited he thought again of how he had quoted to Maartje the 9th-century Arab poet al-Buhturi as they had first met years ago:


طلعتَ لهم وقتَ الشروقِ فعاينوا           سنا الشمسِ من أُفْقٍ ووجهَك من افْقِ

وما عاينوا شمسينِ قبلَهُما التقى          ضياؤهما وَفقاً من الغرب والشرق

You appeared to them at dawn so that they saw the rays of the sun from one horizon and your face from another


Never before had they seen two suns whose lights met in concord from west and east

The woman silently returned with a medium sized box, setting it on the counter. Opening it he saw a pair of worn hiking boots, some socks, a canteen, and a First Aid kit. In the kit he found a 9mm Fabrique Nationale FN509 Compact Tactical with threaded suppressor barrel and suppressor, and three full 12 rd magazines. Rolled into the boots were large wads of Moroccan Dirham, the national currency. He nodded to the young woman, collected the box under his arm, and left the store.

Once back in the cab the driver turned for 17 Rue El Oued, the address of Dar Imzdan, the small hotel reserved for him. This drive was more difficult, winding through narrower streets, avoiding donkeys laden with towering loads, and children darting across the path. Their eventual arrival was announced by other loudspeakers wailing out the call to salat al-asr, the afternoon prayer. As the mosque was two streets over there was no need for Tonio to wait in the cab while the faithful performed wudu, the ritual cleansing at the fountain out front. The less he was seen the better. The driver declined money, saying only “La” (No), so he slung his overnight bag over his shoulder and his box under his arm and went inside.

He went through the registration process and, as the clerk was turning for the key to his room, requested a change of room. This done, he went upstairs and scanned the room for electronics and pinhole cameras before opening his bag. In a couple of hours he would order room service from the dining room, settle in with a book, and wait for his early morning tourist flight to the village of Tifawt, high in the Atlas mountains.

Room service arrived with a bowl of harira, with chicken instead of lamb followed by a large order of rfissa, again with chicken instead of lamb, with a small glass of iced mint tea and a carafe of Italian coffee. All was accompanied by the salat al-maghrib, the call to sunset prayer issuing from the mosque.

Precisely at dawn Tonio was awakened by the muezzin chanting the salat as-subh, the call to morning prayer. He reached for Maartje but found only sheets cooled by the sea air. Dressing quickly he put on socks, boots, an over sized T-shirt and different cargo shorts. The shorts were equipped, inside the small of the back, with a sewn in cloth holster. A web belt with a wide, rectangular stainless steel buckle, inlaid with wood and diagonally crossed with a stainless steel bar was already threaded through the shorts. A flick of the fingers released the bar which became the handle of a flip-out 2 1/3” scalpel blade used for slicing the carotid arteries of knocked-out sentries. Only fools and movie characters leave a sentry unconscious. With mustache and hat in place he slung his overnight bag, with its added contents, over his shoulder and left the room.

Outside, the cab with mismatched hubcaps pulled up and they sped off to the airport where a dubious twin prop airplane waited to take him and six other tourists to Tifawt. Private companies didn’t bother with any kind of airport security and patrons came in by an unattended gate.

Tifawt had only recently been dragged into the 20th century, by the man Tonio was coming for. Agency analysts had identified him as the financier who diverted and washed funds from various charities before parceling them out to various terrorist groups operating against Israel and surrounding countries deemed murtadun, or apostate. He had renovated an old fort on a rise about 1 kilometer from Tifawt and had electrified most of the village. Though he had his own heliport, he had added a single paved runway to the village.

Tonio watched the approach to the runway, feeling as if they were landing on someone’s driveway. The walk into town was short and delivered him to various shops catering to tourists. One of these rented dirt bikes and he quickly arranged one, with saddle bags, for a week. Since, upon completion of the job, he would use the dirt bike to travel by night to a much larger village for a flight out, he would wipe a small roll of dirham with gasoline and leave it for the shop. He found the idea of washing money amusing in this case. In any case, the name under which he had taken the tourist flight and rented the bike had been drawn from the Topeka, Kansas phone book.

Emptying his overnight bag into one saddlebag, then folding the bag into the other, he was off to see the village. He cruised through the more modern area and headed for the outskirts. Should anyone ask, he was researching the effects of modernization on the local culture.

It being late afternoon he stopped in an open area among some houses, got out his phrase book, and exchanged greetings with children playing make shift soccer. He rounded his pronunciation to fit his appearance. In moments a man stepped out of a home and walked to some sheep standing nearby. He grabbed a lamb who bleated loudly as an ewe (the mother?) called frantically along with the others. Setting the lamb down near the children he slit its throat. The lamb gargled a bleat and staggered in circles as blood pulsed over a foot from the wound, pooling on the ubiquitous red Moroccan dirt. The children giggled and looked at Tonio as the lamb fell over on its side and its little legs came to a stop.

Tonio was outraged, though he kept a flat affect. He, and Maartje, had long campaigned against the brutal slaughter of lambs, calves, piglets and other young animals that unspeakably self-centered humans craved for their tender flesh. They had gathered and circulated information and photographs of such young animals as calves torn from their mothers and locked in cages too small for them to turn around, sows locked into gestation crates until delivery of piglets for “gourmet” dining, chickens, ducks and geese overfed in small cages to the point they could not hold up their own body weight. “Factory farms” was the term. The range and diversity of the victims, even including dogs and cats, was almost too long to list. Yet people flocked to the restaurants and the markets, picking and choosing parts of animals they had no idea how to assemble into the real, breathing, feeling beings. Commodity. A lifeless term applied to living, sentient beings.

Tonio and Maartje knew that campaigning against such practices, trying to change such values, was almost pointless. The world’s craving for meat was increasing with the rising standard of living; what an ironic concept. They also campaigned against the trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, bush meat, and bones, such as tiger, used to make trinkets, food, and traditional medicine. That trade was managed by highly placed individuals in various countries, people who could finance the use of armed helicopters to bring poacher teams to elephant and rhino kills, deploy chain saws to strip off tusks and horns, and leave the carcasses to rot, families to mourn, and orphans to starve and be taken by predators. Exterminate the people at the top and, eventually, the trade would be much reduced if not eliminated.

They often wished that the resources devoted to putting Tonio and the very few others like him into the field against terrorists could be at least partially diverted into the elimination of the top financiers of the trade in these items. Shooting individual poachers was simply turning back the sea with a teaspoon. They had often made the case that much of the money from this trade went into the coffers of terrorist organizations. And yes, they had seen the unpublished photos of the shredded Israeli schoolchildren blown apart by bombs on their buses but had unsuccessfully tried to include the upper tier animal parts traders into the target matrix. Maybe when he retired he and Maartje could go into business on their own.

Tonio snapped back to the task at hand. SIGINT and HUMINT determined that the financier would be at his fortified villa, preparing to host a party of like minded internationals. He cranked up the dirt bike and set off on his reconnoiter as evening fell. The animal parts trade would have to wait for another time.

Patience

Patience

by Marco M. Pardi

There….is a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.”

Edmund Burke. 1769.

Beware the fury of a patient man.”

John Dryden. 1681.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Some who have known me would not couple my name and Patience in the same sentence. I will not disappoint. In fact, my patience has run out. About what, you ask. Actually, a lot of things. This upbringing to be polite, genteel, and understanding is beginning to feel like the straitjacket it is. But I’m not going to rush out and join some loudmouthed group of protesters; largely because I don’t like groups, especially when they are made up of people.

So what’s got me cranked up today? Yet another example of the staggering ignorance, stupidity (I have often previously distinguished between ignorance and stupidity), and group delusions so loved by so many and so damaging to all: the resistance to getting the Covid vaccine and the refusal to wear masks.

As any semi-conscious reader knows, the world is gripped in a pandemic which, by its viral nature, has the potential to turn even more deadly than it already is. Coverage of this virus and its variants is exhaustive throughout all forms of media including that which is factual and that which, especially as funneled by Chinese and Russian provocateurs through American right wing outlets, is counter-factual. I won’t belabor that here. What I will take issue with is the response of the American public.

It has recently been said that the divide currently evident in the United States is not purely a politically, economically, educationally or any other such partisan divide as we so often see with other issues; “Anti-vaxxers” and “anti-maskers” come in all stripes. There is much truth in that. The National Immunization Program, within the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, developed the term “Hard to reach populations” to refer to these people. In fact, resistance to vaccines or preventive measures may be the only thing many in these groups have in common and they have continuously demonstrated that limited solidarity in response to a number of various vaccine efforts.

What is maddening, however, is the tepid response of the federal authorities who, it seems, imagine themselves caught in a jurisdictional quandary centering on federal versus States Rights, States Rights versus local control, and local control versus individual “liberties”.

Many people resent Top Down, so let’s start with Bottom Up. Specifically, let’s look at the concept Liberty (or Freedom, if you like). Liberty, or Freedom, is not just a core value among Americans, it has become an unquestioned mantra particularly among the American Right. Yet, these same people bloviate proudly about Law and Order. What do laws do? They circumscribe and spell out under what conditions certain acts can or cannot be taken. Visit an attorney’s office and what do you see? Bookcases filled with large law books, many of them. It seems liberty is pretty narrow. And what about order? Order is the state in which everyone and everything is acting in accordance with prescribed limits on behavior. No law, no order.

People here complain about driving in traffic. Try driving in some third world countries where people seem to feel free to drive wherever and however they want at the moment.

Ah, but we aren’t supposed to think so deeply. The most respected philosopher of the 20th Century, Bertrand Russell, said: Many people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do.

At the time of this writing at least two States, Texas and Florida, are banning local school boards from implementing mask mandates for children, faculty and staff attending school. In fact, they have outlined plans to financially punish them if they do. Georgia is not far behind. Science informs us that the wearing of masks is greatly supportive of efforts to contain the spread of the Covid virus. Dare we say that Science is a fundamental part of education and that denying science is a denial of education, not politics? What, exactly, do the State legislatures intend to teach to the children if not science and associated rational thought?

The issue of States’ Rights, enshrined in cherry picked readings of The Federalist Papers, calls a simple question: Is the United States a country, or is it a nation? A country is a geographic entity delineated by a border (usually) agreed upon by its neighbors, if there are any. Thus, it is at least as much an external statement as an internal one. A nation, however, is an expression of internally felt solidarity, such as The Cherokee Nation, which holds no matter where the members may be situated. Afghanistan is a prime example of a country; a border drawn mostly by people in other countries who had never been there. And, in this case, as in so many others, the border circumscribes a mosaic of separate and distinct tribes (analogous to States) which only remotely share a vague notion of nation. Is this what it means to have State sovereignty instead of federal unity? Nation or not, it would seem logical that, when the country at large is faced with an existential threat such as a deadly virus which does not recognize States lines, the country must act as a unified entity and empower resources and tactics universally, not adjusted and shaped to the passing political whims of ignorant or stupid State Governors.

Threatening school districts with financial penalties if they impose mask mandates for schools seems eerily similar to threatening police departments with such penalties if they dare to execute measures designed to identify and mitigate drunk driving. Drunk drivers too often walk away from the carnage they have wreaked; unmasked cases of covid do the same.

The political sphere is an obvious and well worn venue for people trying any tactic to ascend to positions of power. Less obvious but plumbing the same non-rational depths, or voids, of the human psyche is the religious sphere, or aura if you prefer. In August of this year two more examples of such common and prolific hucksterism surfaced: A woman who is a nun and an M.D., and an evangelical pastor. The woman, a rabid Trump supporter, claims the “diabolical” vaccines are part of a government plan for “total control of a populace” and induce abortions. The pastor, a convert to Qanon and its conspiracy theories, told his large congregation he would expel from his church anyone who wore a mask. He labeled vaccines a “dangerous scam”.

It has long been held that you are free to be as crazy as you want to be as long as you keep it in your own home and do not harm others. These cases, and many others like them violate that standard. Many of our hospital I.C.U. beds are now filled beyond capacity with Covid patients, over 99% of which had refused the well publicized free and easily available vaccination. This means that other people, with a variety of circumstances ranging from heart issues to traffic accidents are being shunted around in search of other hospitals, even dying in the ambulances as they wait. Many of the Covid patients are running up hospital bills exceeding 1 million dollars while taxpayers pick up the tab, hospitals inflate routine costs to other, insured patients, and insurance companies begin to raise their rates for everyone.

During 22 years of college teaching and 23 years in medical research and applied clinical care I have seen ignorance and I have seen willful stupidity. Ignorance is understandable; I’m ignorant of most things in this world. Ignorance is readily remedied through education. Willful stupidity, which denies undeniable facts and instead spouts “alternative facts” (read: lies) as the previous presidential administration was so famous for, is not so easily remedied.

My suggestions? Present unvaccinated Covid patients with the bill for their hospitalization while denying them bankruptcy protection and garnishing their wages and other income. Where a person testing positive for Covid refuses to abide by mask policies, such as in privately owned businesses, public buildings, and transportation explore filing criminal charges for Reckless Endangerment. In sum, my patience has run out.

Legacy

Legacy

by Marco M. Pardi

I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no super human authority behind it.” Albert Einstein. Letter to a Baptist pastor. 1953

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

As Tonio ambled along among the pedestrians next to the street he again wondered if one could determine the country’s driving pattern by the pedestrian walking pattern. Do right side drivers walk on the right and left side drivers walk on the left? Back home some commented on his habitually slow walk. In answer, he cited injuries from a car accident. One which never happened. But those very few unfortunates who had seen him without clothes took the scars as confirmation of the accident. Which had never happened.

Much earlier that morning, after completing a clean SDR, he drifted into a small, empty park. Ahead was a pond and four benches in a row. As he passed a trash container he noted the chalked V on the side, the letter V to everyone else and the Roman numeral 5 for him. Subtracting the number for the day of the week he took off his book bag and settled on the first bench. From his bag, marked with the logo of the university sponsoring his research, he removed his camera and snapped a couple of pictures of the pond. Then he rose and moved to the third bench in the row and set his bag on the ground in front of him. Digging in his bag for another lens, he swept his hand up under the bench and retrieved the numbered key which had been taped there. He pushed it into a slit in the camera case lining.

Being a NOC, he could have no direct contact with embassy personnel and he had to enter the country clean. Therefore, his requested hardware, a Spetsnaz issue SR-1 Vektor using 9X21mm Gyurza body armor piercing ammunition, two extra magazines, and a Vektor specific suppressor had been sealed in a small university logo box and placed in a train station rental locker by an embassy based case officer.

The crowd of pedestrians was thinning as Tonio again contemplated the “national security” importance of his assignment, pushing back the intrusive thoughts of well connected policy makers for whom these executive actions brought financial benefits as well. Just then a little girl, seven or eight years old and reed thin, scampered past him. A few steps past him her skirt billowed as she suddenly squatted. He quickly scanned the oncoming pedestrians and the few windows and balconies facing him. Was she marking him?

Just as he concluded there were no shooters the girl leaped up and kept moving. Tonio came up on a bolus of brownish mucous where the girl had been. As he glanced at the evidence of illness he saw the problem: round, white worms wriggling in the sunlight. He flared with anger. The small ruling class of this country lived in opulent urban palaces, entertained in country dachas surrounded by armed guards, and little girls were sucked thin by worms they expelled on the streets. Unmindful of the discomfort, he quickened his pace toward the train station.

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I consider myself to be a person who, generally, is slow to anger. That may be because, as I have said, I don’t have a fuse – I have a switch. Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t get irritated. And, unfortunately some people confuse irritation with anger. My irritation shows; my anger does not. I have not tried to inventory what makes me angry. I eschew pedestrian psychology and the latest self-help and wellness fads. But I do know that some things affect me, even to the point of action. In fact, it could be said that writing this compendium of over 250 posts probably arises from a felt need to act, though I by no means intend to flog the reader.

In my Death & Dying classes, even when provided under the designation, Perspectives in Critical Thinking, I proposed that anger is a secondary emotion, arising as a reaction to something else. That something else is almost always Fear. And fear is rooted in the feeling that one is or will be unable to control the outcome of what is perceived to be a developing situation. We dread being rendered impotent and we lash out in what is labeled as anger. For example, I’ve often heard it said that people fear death. I respond, Be specific: People do not fear being dead; they fear getting dead. They fear a process over which they have lost control.

So, in everyday life what is there to fear? What is there that might trigger our anger? When witnessing a harmful process in motion that a person or non-human animal is unable to stop, such as a beating or even attempted killing I have a flash of fear for the victim which immediately triggers a level of anger that manifests in action. I experience true anger. Chief Dan George, a chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Coast Salish band in the southeast area of the District of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is quoted as saying: “A child does not question the wrongs of grown-ups. He suffers them.”

We can internalize that concept and apply it in many ways. I am angry when I read of the so-called Republican Party (in actuality, the American Fascist Party) placing their core value – greed – above the safety and health of our children in the face of the very real threat of Covid-19. Refusing to mandate masks in businesses and schools makes certain that, especially with the new Delta variant, more people will become seriously, even fatally ill and infect children in the process. The Party apparently fears economic downturn more than the long term damage to or fatal consequences for their own children. But we’ve known this for decades. This is the same group that has fought regulation of polluting industries, stalled enhanced safety measures in school buses and private vehicles, stopped common sense measures such as universal background checks for firearms purchases, and has attempted to void the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, the Consumer Protection Bureau and numerous other programs and measures designed to ensure the opportunity for their own children to grow into health adults. And yet this same group wraps itself in the soiled robes of religion as it employs absolutely fallacious “science” to justify overturning a woman’s right to control her fertility, either through contraception of abortion. Why? Could it be because since the legalization of abortion the yearly statistics show overwhelmingly that abortions are the last resort of those women and families, especially minorities, that cannot afford a child, or another child. Keeping this population on the edge of outright destitution keeps them willing to accept working conditions and pay befitting third world countries. All in the name of staggering Greed.

Every time I read of some new assault on the environment, even as the evidence for impending disaster compounds every day, or some new attempt to render entire sectors of the population impotent, such as the Republican efforts across the United States to restrict voting to those who will vote for them I wonder, Do these people not have children? Do these people have special places they go to breathe clean air and drink safe water?

Not many years ago a famous, if uncomfortable question was common: “What did you do in the War, Daddy?” We are in a war. But this is a war like no war before it; this is a war in which we are shooting ourselves with ammunition made of stupidity and greed. Our younger children unquestioningly look to us with trust. Fortunately, many of our older children have seen the march of the lemmings and refuse to fall in line. I recently had the opportunity to speak with college and post-graduate students. They agreed that, even with their powerful and portable degrees, their basic plans were to be quickly adaptable in the coming face of accelerating and fundamental change. In other words, the plan was to have no plan they could not quickly change.

Of course, some say that through government spending we are leaving our descendants a legacy of insurmountable debt. If we continue to turn a blind eye to the current practices this will be true. If, on the other hand, we recognize Fascist practices for what they are we can reverse this. These practices surfaced with the Reagan administration’s attempt at “trickle down economics”, tax exemptions and subsidies to major corporations on the claim that these will generate jobs. There is zero proof any jobs were created; instead, the corporations re-invested in themselves, including the purchase of automation to further reduce the work force. And, of course, these corporations became major donors to keep the political party in power. This is a core principle of Fascism. Another example was the conversion of the federal retirement system from tax supported to a system in which tax money was invested in the stocks of hand picked major corporations and administered by an un-elected, unknown person picked by the administration to choose which corporations got the windfall. This was then used as the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). A core principle of Fascism, yet G. W. Bush attempted to do the same with Social Security. Closing the tax loopholes for the super rich and assessing fair and proper taxation on corporations will negate the development of “insurmountable debt”. But as long as Fascists remain in power the average citizen will pay the price for his own confinement. And Democracy will become a memory.

I’ve always thought “legacy” was something I could define, something I could point to as something I had achieved and could leave to my descendants. Apparently even that has changed. The legacy we are leaving to those who survive our rapacious stupidity is captured in one word: Uncertainty.

Aging

Aging

by Marco M. Pardi

Old age takes away from us what we have inherited and gives us what we have earned.” Gerald Brenan. “Life”.

Ultimately, our lives do not make complete sense until we know with certainty that we are at the very end of our lives. Only then, as we view the finished mosaic, do the pieces fit and tell our story.” Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open to comment.

For most of my life I did not think about aging except in abstract, rather academic ways. As the “One day at a time” mantra grew louder for others I felt no particular enlightenment or conversion; I had already been living that way as what I considered normal. After all, we tend to remember the very few plans that worked out and forget the very many that didn’t. So why waste time planning?

Some would say my lack of planning stems from disengagement or even disinterest in life. That could be. Very few of my early weeks passed without my mother wailing at me about how much she was “sacrificing” for me. The message was clear: she would have been better off had I not been born. Oddly, she was never specific about what she was sacrificing, and I never really cared to ask. I woke up each morning, went about my day, and went to bed at night. If I woke up the next day, fine. If I didn’t wake up the next day, fine. My only plan, if there was one, was to grow up and leave. But don’t assume I wanted to spare anyone the burden of my presence; I just thought being alive wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Some would say that’s not a healthy lifestyle. Why? How about the 100+ men, women, and children who went to bed a few weeks ago and got smashed like roaches on the kitchen floor as their high rise condominium building pancaked? Did they fail to plan ahead?

Becoming a parent, at age 27, brought significant changes. But in a few years came an unavoidable divorce. For the next couple of years I fought hard to gain custody of my daughter, even having an expert child psychiatrist present the court with a thorough analysis showing she would be far better off with me. But, the courts at that time were firmly of the mind that “A bad mother is better than no mother at all.” Over subsequent years I fought through continuous bouts of soul crushing guilt arising from the feeling I had not done enough. Not something a person should plan to experience. But I never had a moment of Oh, what I’ve sacrificed for her.

Oddly enough, while the divorce was progressing I began teaching Death & Dying at the state college where I was on the faculty. It’s often said that if you want to really know a subject, teach it. And Death & Dying is not just about taking your last breath. It includes a wide array of what are called “mini-deaths”: the variety of losses including amputations, loss of function, loss of career, loss of a loved one, and yes, divorce and loss of child custody. Never before or since was it ever so true that my lectures were often talking to myself as much as to the students.

Subsequent relationships, such as they were, were few, far between, and short. My daughter was my focus. Then the best relationship I had ever had developed with a woman a year or so younger than me and lasted through years, huge geographic moves, and occupational turmoil. We never argued. Not once. But uncontrollable circumstances pulled us apart, and she suddenly died soon after. Not in the plan, if there was one.

Today, as a grandfather of three, I find myself in an expanded role. The oldest grandchild is in the top 10% of her medical school class; the next just graduated from college and is in preparation to be a carrier based Navy fighter pilot; and the third is completing college at the top of her class with a major in Finance and minor in Environmental Science. I only half joke that each of them is way over my pay grade. But I can discuss the nexus of medicine and politics, the risks of being thrown into armed conflict on the whim of craven Imperialists, and the perceived gap between what we must do for the planet and what we can do given our cultural values and financial resources. I don’t expect to receive requests such as, Grandpa, tell us how they did it in the old days. The old days are what got us here.

Looking back is a luxury of questionable worth. But I feel one of my strengths is the ability to draw upon intimate experience with and knowledge of real Fascism, not the stuff portrayed in movies. I am convinced that most Americans really have no idea just how close the United States recently came to descending into the pit of Fascism disguised as Make America Great Again. Nor would most Americans recognize the deception once it is in place. The architects of this prison complex have been in place since the 1920’s and the Red Scare and the brutal suppression of the Labor Movement. The descendants and heirs of this vicious group, admirers of Mussolini and even Hitler, are still in place, many in positions of power, and simply awaiting the next opportunity to seize this country and overturn Democracy.

I’ve written several posts on the subject of Fascism and the attempts to impose an authoritarian government on an unsuspecting American public so I will not bother readers with more. I am more interested in devising ways to communicate the warning signs missed by so many in the elections of recent “Republican” administrations. It is far too easy to dismiss old men like me as alarmist and “out of touch”. And, familial loyalty does not always extend itself to serious consideration of every member’s views.

Now, as I’m quickly closing in on my eighth decade I easily acknowledge that I have far more yesterdays than I do tomorrows. And I’m fine with the loss of many activities I so enthusiastically did over those decades. Some of those losses stem from the loss of strength to do them, some from the loss of physical safety in doing them, and some from the loss of interest in doing them. No more maintenance of exotic sports cars, and hurling them around; not even average car maintenance. No more bareback riding of spirited horses (I feel guilt even thinking about putting my weight, average as it is, on a horse’s back). No more home repair when it involves what are now risky or weighty tasks. I’m growing into being an old guy. The one activity I seriously miss is college teaching. Few things in life brought me the utter joy of seeing people, of all ages, blossom with excitement as they entered into new realizations which I, in some way, helped to facilitate. Undeniable medical issues tipped the ethical decision for me to withdraw from that dearly loved activity.

On communicating with the grandchildren about the increasing risks of authoritarian answers to problems which are seemingly insurmountable any other way there is an understandable voice which says, Do what you can to facilitate understanding of authoritarianism, prepare them to survive if it comes to that, and accept the reality that some things are just not within your control.

Okay. Each of them is more than demonstrating that they are unusually intelligent, and their parents are both stunningly intelligent. But is intelligence a broad enough tent to protect and empower them should an entire society veer toward the worst manifestations of social control? And who said everyone’s life is supposed to be happy? One man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

A metaphor might help: Martial artists are rigidly trained to advance in their sport against combatants who are also rigidly trained to adhere to the rules. Real fighters are flexible in their ability to recognize and overpower those who do not adhere to the rules. The past four years of chaos and turmoil in the American government, from State to federal level, awakened us to the vicious, demented motives and actions of those who feel rules apply only to others. The United States came far closer than ever before, and far closer than most people seem to realize, to losing its democracy to a totalitarian dictatorship. The neo-Fascists, masquerading as “Republicans”, are still in positions of significant power, simply awaiting their next opportunity to try again. Those of us who feel we do not live simply for our own passing pleasures must act to facilitate understanding among the generation coming of age in this most risky of times. I’ve always bristled at that phrase, productive citizen. Being an old guy doesn’t mean being unproductive. Not at all.

QoD

Ultimately, our lives do not make complete sense until we know with certainty that we are at the very end of our lives. Only then, as we view the finished mosaic, do the pieces fit and tell our story.”

Marco M. Pardi

Cultural Relativity

Cultural Relativity

by Marco M. Pardi

The degree of tolerance attainable at any moment depends on the strain under which the society is maintaining its cohesion.” George Bernard Shaw.

We are none of us tolerant in what concerns us deeply and entirely.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open to comment.

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One of the most common misconceptions about Anthropologists is that they are open and accepting of all forms of human behavior, especially if these behaviors can be subsumed under “culture”. I have encountered this mistaken attitude in the general public as well as in college classrooms. Typical statements have been, “I would have liked to be an Anthropologist but I have certain ideas of right and wrong and I would not be able to keep my mouth shut.”

Well, readers of this site must have by now gained the impression that I, too, have certain ideas of right and wrong. The issue is not whether I have principles, it is whether I can keep those principles from influencing my observations of and conclusions about others. Certainly there have been times when I wanted to intervene and stop some culturally approved behavior. And I have always held strong opinions about certain practices. But an Anthropologist must always be mindful that he or she is almost always a guest of the population being studied. Being openly critical of practices may result in failure to gain cooperation, at best, and expulsion, at worst.

Readers know my feelings about how humans interact with and treat non-human animals. But just to balance the score sheet somewhat, I would also take strong measures against FGM, Female Genital Mutilation. But before going into a village and cutting throats among the practitioners it’s always wise to ask what’s going on. Who are the women who are cutting the clitoris and sometimes the clitoral hood out of young girls, and why are they doing it. It turns out most of the cutting is being done by the mother of the girl, a woman who has had the procedure done to her. When asked why they would do this to their own child the universal answer is, “Without it they would never be accepted in marriage.”

Now we might think freedom from being bartered into a marriage is not a bad thing. But in the majority of societies wherein this is practiced there simply is no culturally accepted status for an unmarried girl over a certain age. Her options would be: domestic slavery (not much different from marriage), if that is even possible, or leaving the society to become an eventually diseased prostitute in a large city or a rural truck hub. In other words, it’s not just mothers wanting to do to their daughters what was done to them. It’s the men in the society who think that a woman deprived of her ability to enjoy sex will not wander and thereby get pregnant with another man’s child. A female is often viewed as a domestic servant and as a brood mare, not a romantic partner. Changing this behavior, then, would take more than just forcing the women to stop; it would require a major change throughout the culture.

Although there is a branch of Anthropology called Applied Anthropology, traditional Anthropology seeks to observe, learn and understand, not seek change. Practitioners of Applied Anthropology face stiff ethical examination when presenting their rationale for “social or cultural engineering”.

Of course, the potential for change is inherent in every interaction Anthropologists have, especially with societies relatively or completely untouched by outsiders before. They are as curious about the Anthropologist as the Anthropologist is curious about them. And, there have been occasions when Anthropologists took direct action to effect or to curtail change, such as in war. During WWII several highly ranked and established Anthropologists joined the OSS, parachuting deep into enemy held territory to organize and empower local resistance. They may have set the example for President John F. Kennedy when, anticipating the wars of the future, he designed and chartered a small organization of elite soldiers, specially trained in basic field medicine, linguistics, observation and analysis, and particular cultural negotiation – about half the Master of Arts in Anthropology curriculum at an upper tier graduate school. Instead of caps and gowns they were issued Green Berets and full survival gear, to be known from then on as “Armed Anthropologists”. Their mandate was to win “hearts and minds”, not take scalps; they were the OSS reborn.

This development was complicated by another organization developing in parallel: the Peace Corps. While both organizations ran counter to the traditional Army model of bomb everything and roll tanks over the remains, the Peace Corps was frankly dedicated to cultural change, to showing people a “better way”.

Although I met some Peace Corps veterans the only active members I met were in a contingent that was granted permission to speak to the Doctoral program in which I was enrolled at the time. We were polite to them. Most of the time. In fact, among our small number of Doctoral candidates at an upper tier university we had two young, freshly minted Jesuit priests. Mistakenly thinking they would learn useful tactics to employ in their upcoming missionary work they had transferred from the nearby Catholic university to ready themselves for saving exotic people from the errors of their ways. They lasted less than one semester.

But in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a perfect storm was upon us. Military and civilian personnel returning from Korea brought with them their exposure to and subsequent interest “Eastern religions”, the Puritanical repression of 1950’s America was weakening, the Draft was draining American blood into SouthEast Asia and many were coming back addicted to opiates, Civil Rights were being forcefully asserted, hallucinogens were commonplace and four English kids led a British re-invasion of the United States. I got fewer questions such as, “You want to study dead Indians!?”

This storm brought a surge of interest in Anthropology. University classes filled and expanded with young people wanting to explore other cultures, travel the world, and maybe find themselves. Institutions became more aware of the relevance of and potential uses for Anthropology. Not to be left out, the Intelligence Community absorbed many as analysts, case officers, and NOCs (Non-Official Cover). NOCs were embedded across the spectrum of public and private institutions, businesses, colleges and universities, and medical and other science institutions especially where sudden and unexpected travel was not unusual. Very specialized NOCs, such as those with an established Anthropology legend, could respond and resolve matters anywhere on an ad hoc basis; they were “just doing research” as they moved about on Tourist papers.

But while the dons of academia retained much of their reticence toward such “extra-curricular” activities, they also offered little comfort to Anthropologists having second thoughts about their activities and who were the ultimate winners and losers. Of course, most activities entail the gathering of information (Intelligence), but there are those cases which call for direct action. Still, even something like “outing” Valerie Plame, a covert operations officer, has consequences. Hostile powers are quick to review every one of her contacts, no matter how seemingly innocuous, and subject them to harsh interrogation or worse. And this can extend to their families as well through something as simple as cutting off all their financial support and chances for future employment. Should the children inherit the sins of the father?

In 1976 President Gerald Ford issued a prohibition of any U.S. government employee engaging in a political assassination (Executive Order 11905). Every President since has reaffirmed the order (for example, Reagan: Executive Order 12333). It therefore remains unclear whether Reagan (1986) or Clinton (1998) got around it by a policy only later articulated openly by George W. Bush. George W. Bush issued a Presidential Finding which declared certain targets to be military or terrorist targets, not political. Open season.

Most Anthropologists gravitate into more mundane careers, usually connected with some form of trans-national business. With the increasing sensitivity to diversity in the workforce they may be key players in Personnel departments, ensuring friction free accommodation to cultural differences among employees. They may be analysts and/or negotiators of trans-national interactions. Or, they may be advisers to the company advertising and public relations departments. But here, too, the best intentions can meet obstacles. While women in the workforce, including senior executive positions, may be “normal” in the home society of the company, this may not be easily acceptable in some cultures especially when women have supervisory power over men. Even in the most developed nations we still hear, “She slept her way to the top.”

The Western World is now aflame with controversy over “Critical Race Theory”. Okay, I will keep silent over the use of the word race; that’s another story. For that matter, at this point I cannot support the use of the word theory either. But that is what happens when concepts drift into or arise from poorly educated minds.

Cultural relativity is usually thought of in contemporary terms, what those other people are doing now. But a slight shift in perspective enables us to see how people look back to previous eras, even to recent times, and try to explain and excuse beliefs and practices that would be anathema now. I suggest the far more uncomfortable perspective is that from which we view our current actions and ask how our descendants, even the next generation will view us and our beliefs and actions as we forcefully attack science on every front in our self-absorbed voracious lust for “the good life”. Will we have set the stage for them to enjoy this dream world we cling to? Will there be apologists who try to explain that we were just acting according to our culture? Or will they spit on our graves. Those of you who have read this far have made a statement, albeit within you. Please accept my request to voice this statement and write a comment.

QoD

I think the idea of manifesting a future is a misunderstanding of the nature of time. We are always, ever have been, and ever shall be a mosaic, our attention drawn from piece to piece in what deceptively seems to be a chronology.

Marco M. Pardi

Marco M. Pardi QoD:


I don’t need to pick the flowers to enjoy the garden.”

1976

Marco M. Pardi QoD:

“Creativity is just inventiveness wearing lipstick.”

6.16.21

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